An Old Landmark Reset. By J. M. Pendleton. Bowling Green, KY, 1854.

In a tract, “An Old Landmark Reset. By Elder J. M. Pendleton, A. M., Union University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee,” the author maintains that Baptists ought not to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers. This tract has been circulated extensively, and its doctrine is embraced by many. The discussions on the subject may sometimes have produced temporary evil, but where the parties have a sincere desire to know the truth, and a willingness to follow wherever it may lead, the final result must be good. Parties who agree with each other in their views of Christian doctrine and ordinances, and whose only difference respects the mode of treating those who are in error, ought not to fall out with each other on this question. Each one must act in the matter on his own responsibility; and discussions to ascertain the right mode of acting ought to be conducted in the spirit of kindness, meekness, and gentleness. Discussions so conducted will tend to develop truth; and if they do not bring us to the conclusions of the Landmark, may enable us to correct the premises from which those conclusions are drawn.

The question is not one of mere taste, about which persons may innocently differ; but it involves moral obligation. This is implied in the word ought. “Baptists ought not,” &c. Whatever is morally wrong ought to be avoided as offensive to God. If we have sinned in this matter, through ignorance and unbelief, though God may have graciously pardoned our sin, we should not persevere in the wrong. Our attention is now called to the subject as a question of duty, and we are bound to examine it in the fear of God, and so act hereafter as God will approve.

Baptists are not the only persons concerned to know what duty is. If Baptists ought not to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers, can other persons recognize them blamelessly? If the thing is right for others, why not for Baptists? If the act is wrong in itself, no one can perform it without some degree of guilt. For Baptists to practice it may involve peculiar inconsistency, and a higher degree of guilt. But if the act is in itself one which God disapproves, all men should be warned not to commit it.

On searching the Landmark to find why Baptists ought not to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers, we soon discover that the reason has no exclusive relation to Baptists. The doctrine is, that Pedobaptists preachers are not gospel ministers; and, if this doctrine is true, other persons are bound to receive it, and act on it, as well as Baptists. Nor does the doctrine refer to a few Pedobaptists ministers only, who may be less worthy of esteem and confidence than the rest; but it refers to all. Not one of them is a gospel minister; and not one of them ought to be recognized as such.

The honor of Christ is deeply concerned in his ministry. If some messengers sent by the churches were called by Paul “the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 8:23), the same may be affirmed empathically of the messengers sent by Christ himself into the world, to preach his gospel to mankind. He has promised to be with them, they speak by his authority, and in his stead. They bear in earthen vessels an inestimable treasure which he has committed to them; and with which he designs to enrich the world. For men whom Christ has never sent to claim that they bear this treasure, and are authorized to dispense it; that they have a commission from him to address mankind in his name, and have his presence with them, and his approbation of their labors; --for men whom Christ has not sent to claim all this, is an evil of no small magnitude. Their presumption must be highly offensive to him; and all who recognize them as his ministers must oppose his will in a matter which he has greatly at heart. The question, therefore, is one of tremendous magnitude. Have all those offended Christ who have recognized as his ministers, Whitfield, Edwards, Davies, Payson, and other such men from whom they have supposed that they received the word of Christ, and by whose ministry they have thought that they were brought to know Christ? If Baptists ought not to recognize such men as gospel ministers, no one ought; and the respect which they have received from men as ministers of the gospel, must be offensive to Christ.

We do not affirm that all these consequences are stated in the Landmark. But if the doctrine of the tract has not led the author thus far, will it not legitimately conduct us to these conclusions, if we adopt and consistently maintain it? But we seem to have the author’s approbation in making this application of his principles. He says, “If it is not too absurd to suppose such a thing, let it be supposed that there were persons in apostolic times corresponding to modern Pedobaptists. Can any Baptist believe that Paul, beholding the practices of such persons—seeing the sprinkling of infants substituted for the immersion of believers—would have recognized the ministers of such sects as ministers of Christ, acting according to the gospel? Surely not. Paul would have protested against such a caricature of the Christian system. He would have said to such ministers, “Will ye not cease to pervert the ways of the Lord?” (14)

Conclusions so unfavorable to the entire Pedobaptists ministry are revolting to the minds of multitudes. They see in many of these ministers proofs of humble piety, sincere devotion to the cause of Christ, and deep concern for the salvation of souls. To these manifestations of the proper spirit for the gospel ministry, are added a high degree of Scripture knowledge, and a talent for imparting instruction. When such men are seen devoting their lives to arduous toil for the conversion of souls, and when God appears to crown their labors with abundant success, it is difficult to resist the conviction that they are truly ministers of the gospel, acting with Divine authority and approbation. But the Landmark teaches that these men are not gospel ministers; and its arguments in support of this opinion need a careful examination.

From what premises does the Landmark draw its conclusion? The author informs us in his letter to Dr. Hill. He says, “By a reference to what I have written you will see that Dr. Griffin, a celebrated Pedobaptist, has furnished the premises from which my conclusion is drawn.” (53)

He does not profess to have derived them directly from the Scriptures. The tract does not contain a single quotation from the Scriptures, designed to sustain them. Whatever may be the weight of Pedobaptist authority in an argument with Pedobaptists, when Baptists are laboring in the fear of God to ascertain their duty, they ought to seek information from a higher source.

In the quotations made from Dr. Griffin we find the following statements:

“Baptism is the initiatory ordinance which introduces us into the visible church; of course, where there is no baptism, there are no visible churches. We ought not to commune with those who are not baptized, and, of course, are not church-members, even if we regard them as Christians. I have no right to send the sacred elements out of the church.” (4)

These are the premises from which the Landmark draws its conclusion. Is the principle here laid down a doctrine of the Holy Scriptures? If so, we are bound to receive it with every consequence which can be legitimately drawn from it.

In Chapter III we have investigated the Scripture doctrine concerning the church universal. If we have not mistaken the divine teaching on the subject, every man who is born of the Spirit is a member of this church. Regeneration, not baptism, introduces him into it. The dogma that baptism initiates into the church that that those who are not baptized are not church-members, even if they are Christians, denies the existence of this spiritual church, and substitutes for it the visible church catholic of theologians. The evils resulting from this unscriptural substitution have been shown on pp. 132, 133. They are sufficient to deter us from an inconsiderate admission of the dogma from which they proceed.

Dr. Gill called infant baptism “a part and pillar of popery,” and we may justly call the dogma of Dr. Griffin a part and pillar of infant baptism. If the true universal church is spiritual, comprising all the regenerate and no others; and if local churches are temporary associations of persons belonging to the universal church, no place is found in either for unregenerate infants. But when baptism is made the door of entrance, instead of regeneration, a way of entrance is opened for infants. Pedobaptism began in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and this doctrine, in some form, is necessary to its support. The regenerating power first attributed to baptism; appears to have been understood to be the conferring of the new relation constituting membership in the church. A spiritual church, with a spiritual door of entrance, did not suit the carnal tendency which was rapidly leading men to Romanism. The substitution of the visible church catholic for the spiritual church of Christ, and of baptism for regeneration, led to infant church of Christ, and of baptism for regeneration, led to infant baptism, a corrupt church-membership, and all the evils of popery.

This dogma now efficiently sustains the cause of Pedobaptism. That Dr. Mason considered it a chief pillar of infant baptism, fully appears in his Essays on the Church. Its practical effect is clearly exemplified in the case of the late Dr. Alexander. That excellent man, with two other distinguished Presbyterian ministers of Virginia, became dissatisfied with the proofs of infant baptism on which they had relied. One of them for a time became a Baptist, and the others were strongly inclined to follow him. But all these men settled down at last in the belief of Pedobaptism: and the process of reasoning which satisfied Dr. Alexander’s mind, and probably the minds of the rest, is given in his biography. Two considerations kept him back from joining the Baptists. The first was, that the prevalence of infant baptism as early as the fourth and fifth centuries, appeared to him unaccountable on the supposition that no such practice existed in the time of the apostles. The other was his inference that if the Baptists are right, they are the only Christian church on earth, and all other denominations are out of the visible church. He had perceived the corrupting tendency of infant baptism: but the dogma of a visible church catholic with a baptismal boundary, assisted to hold his noble mind fast fettered in error. Shall Baptists receive this dogma with all of its consequences?

How thoroughly this Pedobaptists doctrine enters into the reasonings of the Landmark, appears in such passages as the following: “Who can be a minister of Christ according to the gospel, without belonging the church?” (12) “Now, if Pedobaptists preachers do not belong to the church of Christ, they ought not to be recognized as ministers of Christ.” (13) “Our refusal to commune with the Pedobaptists grows out of the fact that they are unbaptized, and out of the church.” (16) In these passages, the Landmark uses the phrase, “the church,” in apparent conformity to the common doctrine of the visible church catholic; since none are members of it, but baptized persons. But another passage in the pamphlet sets forth a different doctrine: “There is no universal visible church; and if the universal invisible church, composed of all the saved, has what Dr. E. calls ‘from’ apart from visibility.” (42) According to this, the true and only universal church is “composed of all the saved.” How can this be reconciled with the preceding quotations, which represent all unbaptized persons as out of “the church?” How can it be reconciled with the premises adopted from Dr. Griffin, that “those who are not baptized are not church-members, even if we regard them as Christians?” A church composed of “all the saved,” must contain some unbaptized persons, unless all the unbaptized are unsaved; and if we may account any unbaptized persons members of “the church,” we abandon the premises of the Landmark. I do not find evidence, that the pamphlet adopts Mr. Courtney’s theory of the church generic; but whether it sues the phrase “the church” generically or collectively, the result if the same. In some way, its signification extends beyond the bounds of a single local church; and yet it is not the true universal church, “composed of all the saved.” But “the church” which appears in the premises and reasonings of the Landmark is, at best, only a Baptists modification of the visible church catholic, the church that has given Pedobaptism and Popery to the world. Many able Baptists writers have fallen into this Pedobaptist error respecting the church; but the discussions to which the Landmark has given occasion, will tend, we may hope, to establish a sounder theology.

The Landmark inquires for the authority on which Pedobaptist preachers act. “If Pedobaptist societies are not churches of Christ, whence do their ministers derive their authority to preach? Is there any scriptural authority to preach which does not come through a church of Christ? And if Pedobaptist ministers are not in Christian churches, have they any right to preach? That is to say, have they any authority according to the gospel? They are doubtless authorized by the forms and regulations of their respective societies. But do they act under evangelical authority? If is perfectly evident to the writer, that they do not.” (11) We answer, that, if the Holy Spirit has qualified men to preach the gospel, they preach it with divine authority. The Holy Spirit, who divides to every man severally as he will, does not give the necessary qualifications for the gospel ministry, without designing that they shall be used; and since he only can give these qualifications, we are sure that every man who possesses them, is bound, by the authority of God, to use them to the end for which they are bestowed. We arrive at this conclusion, aside from all reasoning about ceremonies and churches; and the proof brings irresistible conviction. Here is a landmark of truth, which must not be deserted, however much we may be perplexed with reasonings about outward forms.  

We have maintained, in Chapter VIII., that ministers of the word, as such, are officers of the universal church; and that their call to the ministry by the Holy Spirit, is complete in itself, without the addition of outward ceremony. The person called fails to do his duty, if he neglects the divinely appointed method by which he should enter on the work to which he is called; and this failure tends to obscure the evidence of his divine call. But when, through the obscurity, evidence of his call presents itself with convincing force, we act against reason and against Scripture if we reject it. The seal of divine authority is affixed to that minister who brings into his work qualifications which God only can bestow.

While we maintain that Pedobaptist preachers, who give proof that they have been called to their work by the Holy Spirit, ought to be regarded as gospel ministers, who do not insist that Baptists ought to invite all such to occupy their pulpits. This is a different matter. When the Holy Spirit calls, he makes it the duty of the called to study the Holy Scriptures, and to preach what is there taught. His call does not render ministers infallible, or pledge the divine approbation to whatever they may teach; and it therefore does not bind any one to surrender the right of private judgment, and receive with implicit faith whatever may be preached. Much error is sometimes inculcated by preachers, whose divine call to the ministry we cannot question. Even baptism and ordination, however regular, do not make a minister sound in doctrine, and worthy to occupy any and every pulpit. The responsibility of inviting ministers into the pulpit, ought to be exercised with a conscientious regard to the glory of God, and the interests of souls.

An argument for excluding Pedobaptist preachers from our pulpits is drawn by the Landmark from our close communion:--“It is often said by the Pedobaptists that Baptists act inconsistently in inviting their ministers to preach with them, while they fail to bid them welcome at the Lord’s table. I acknowledge the inconsistency. It is a flagrant inconsistency. No one ought to deny it.” (16)

This Pedobaptist objection is endorsed not only by the Landmark, but also by Baptists who practice open communion. All these maintain that we are inconsistent in admitting ministers into the pulpit, when we deny them a seat at the communion table. But a charge of inconsistency made against us by persons who are in error on the very point, ought not to surprise or disquiet us. Let our procedure, in each case, be regulated by the word of God, and we may be sure that, in the end, we shall be found consistent, even if we cannot at once make our consistency apparent to all. The insidious tendency to substitute ceremony for spirituality meets us everywhere, and lies, I apprehend, at the foundation of this charge. If communion at the Lord’s table is “a principal spiritual function,” as affirmed by Mr. Hall, and if, as is done in this objection of the Landmark, it may be classed with the preaching of the word, as a thing of like character, the charge of inconsistency in requiring a ceremonial qualification for one, and not for the other, will have a show of justness. But if the Lord ’s Supper is a ceremony, a ceremonial qualification for it may be necessary, which may not be indispensable to the ministry of the word. And it may be the duty of Baptists, both by theory and practice, to teach their erring brethren the important distinction, too often overlooked, between spiritual service to God and that which his ceremonial.

The lawfulness of inviting Pedobaptist preachers into the pulpit, has been defended on the ground that nay Christian has the right to talk of Christ and his great salvation. Our Landmark brethren admit that all have a right to make known the gospel privately, but deny that any have the right to proclaim it publicly, except those who have been regularly inducted into the ministerial office. The distinction between talking of Christ privately and proclaiming his gospel publicly, appears to me to respect obligation rather than right. If a Christian has a right to tell of Christ to a fellow man who sits by his side, or walks in the highway with him, he has the same right to address two in like manner, and, so far as I can see, he has an equal right to address ten, a hundred, or a thousand. The obligation to exercise this right is limited only by his ability to do good, and the opportunity which Providence presents of using such talents as he possesses to the glory of God and the benefit of immortal souls. A divine call to the work of the ministry being always accompanied with qualifications for public usefulness, creates obligation rather than confers right, as wealth creates obligation rather than confers right, to relieve the poor. Now, to defend the lawfulness of inviting a Pedobaptist preacher into the pulpit, it has been deemed sufficient to maintain that the person so invited has a right to talk of Christ to perishing men, and recommend his salvation to their acceptance. The argument appears to me to be valid; but I have chosen to take higher ground, and to maintain that many Pedobaptist ministers give convincing proof that the Holy Spirit has called and qualified them to preach the gospel, and that it is therefore not only their right, but their duty, to fulfill the ministry which God has committed to them.

We have supposed that an undoubted divine call of any one to the gospel ministry, would command the respect of all who revere the authority of the Most High; but on this point the Landmark holds the following remarkable language:--“I go farther and say, that if God were, with an audible voice, as loud as heaven’s mightiest thunder, to call a Pedobaptist to preach, we would not be justified in departing from the Scriptures, unless were divinely told the utterances of that voice were intended to supersede the teachings of the New Testament. Such information would intimate the beginning of a new economy, and I am writing of the present dispensation.” (48)

To this we know not what to say. We have no argument to offer. If God’s voice from heaven cannot prevail, all our arguments must be ineffectual, for we have nothing more forcible to urge than the word of the King Supreme. For ourselves, were the undoubted voice of God from heaven to fall on our ears, we have nothing to oppose to his authority. We reverence the Scriptures, but all our reasonings from the Scriptures are as nothing when God speaks. We claim no right to demand explanations respecting his dispensations as a condition of receiving his word. What if God’s voice from heaven ushers in a new economy, we want no higher authority than his mere announcement, even if unaccompanied with any explanation; and we may be well assured that all our reasonings about economies, church order, and similar topics, are erroneous, if they lead us to reject the voice of God speaking from heaven.

But how does a divine call of the unbaptized to preach the gospel, constitute a new economy? John the Baptist, who preached by divine authority, at the beginning of the present dispensation, was unbaptized; and, after the dispensation had been established by the exaltation of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Saul of Tarsus was called to preach the gospel while unbaptized. Cases now occur in which persons who undergo examination in order to ordination, refer their convictions of duty with reference to the ministry, to a period anterior to their baptism; and no ordaining presbytery would be justified in denying the possibility of a call by the Holy Spirit, while the subject of it was unbaptized. He who calls the unbaptized to repentance and faith, has the power and right to call them to the ministry also, if it is his pleasure. God has never bound himself in any manner to require none but baptized persons to preach his word; and we have no right to limit the Holy One of Israel. In our view, the bestowment of ministerial grace and qualifications by the Holy Spirit, indicates the divine will: if not as certainly as it would be indicated by a voice from heaven, yet we cannot resist the conviction which it brings to our minds. When God speaks from heaven, or otherwise clearly indicates his will, we know nothing but reverence and submission.

It has been argued that Baptists ought not to invite Pedobaptists ministers into their pulpits, while they would exclude, both from their communion and their pulpits, a Baptist minister who should inculcate Pedobaptist doctrine. This argument also is a mere appeal to consistency. Such argument ought never to be used when better can be had. If there is any established usage among Baptists with which the invitation of Pedobaptists ministers in inconsistent, the usage may need to be changed. Then the present argument will fall to the ground. But, so far as I know, men who have left the Baptists ministry for the ministry in a Pedobaptist denomination, are, other things being equal, regarded and treated like other Pedobaptist ministers, each case being judged according to its merit. If a false-hearted Baptist minister should retain his connection with a Baptist church, and avail himself of it to disseminate Pedobaptist error, he would deserve to be excluded both from the communion and the pulpit. But if a Baptist minister should become a Pedobaptist, and leave behind him, in the minds of his Baptist brethren, a full conviction that in so doing he acted honestly and conscientiously, I am not aware that he would be viewed less favorably than other Pedobaptist ministers. I remember a case which will illustrate this point. A young Baptist brother, of fervent piety and distinguished talent, was licensed by his church and entered on a course of study to prepare himself for usefulness in the ministry. In prosecuting his studies, his mind came under Pedobaptist ministers. I remember a case which will illustrate this point. A young Baptist brother, of fervent piety and distinguished talent, was licensed by his church and entered on a course of study to prepared himself for usefulness in the ministry. In prosecuting his studies, his mind came under Pedobaptist influence, and he announced to his church a change of his views, and a desire to connect himself with Pedobaptists. The church separated him from their communion; but the very men who voted this separation, invited him afterwards into their pulpit. They had licensed him because they believed him called of God to the work of the ministry. Their full belief of this remained; and they invited him to preach, not as a Pedobaptist, but as a minister of Christ, whom, as such, they loved. In their view, it was improper for him to remain in a Baptist church and partake of its communion; but they believed it to be right for him to fulfill the ministry to which he had been divinely called. In their view, the exclusion from the communion, and the admission to the pulpit, were perfectly consistent. If others think differently, they will still admit that there was not principle violated in this case, merely because of his having been once a Baptist. This admission will nullify the present argument, and leave the question to be settled on other grounds.

If we admit a Pedobaptist minister into our pulpits, do we not countenance his errors? We do, if we expect him to inculcate these errors, or if we permit him to inculcate them without correction. But this is equally true with respect to Baptist ministers. The responsibility of inviting generally devolves on the pastor of a church, who is bound to instruct the people of his charge in truth and righteousness, and to guard them, as much as possible, from all error.  He is, therefore, under obligation, when he invites others to occupy his pulpit, to exercise prudent caution; and this caution is needed with respect to Baptists as well a Pedobaptists. On various occasions I have invited Pedobaptist ministers to preach, where I have been accustomed to officiate; and, in every case, I have been able to approve the doctrine which they preached. In a single case, it happened, that a minister invited to occupy the pulpit, preached doctrine so erroneous, that I deemed it my duty to correct it in a discourse subsequently delivered; but the preacher of this error was a Baptist. If this experience is of any practical value, I would infer from it, not that the Baptist ministry is less orthodox than the Pedobaptist, but that caution is needed where we least suspect danger; and that the inviting of Pedobaptist ministers does not necessarily introduce unsound preaching. If a pastor invites into his pulpit a Pedobaptist minister, whom he sincerely believes to be called of God to the ministry, and who, he believes, will, in his preaching, know nothing but Christ, and him crucified; that pastor may enjoy a pure conscience towards God, undisturbed by any errors of his Pedobaptist brother which he has never approved.

But it will be said, that, although the pastor does not design his invitation of the Pedobaptist minister to be an approval of his errors, it will be so understood by the minister himself, and by others. This, I think, is a mistake. If the pastor has taken due pains to make the truth known, and has clearly defined his own position, and maintained it with firmness and consistency, there will be little danger that his act, in this case, will be misconstrued. What we have maintained is, that the invitation of a Pedobaptist minister to preach in a Baptist pulpit, is not in itself unlawful; but whether it is expedient in any particular case, must depend on the circumstances of the case. If a Baptist pastor is conscious that he has failed to set forth the truth clearly and fully, the objection which we are considering may justly embarrass him; but the proper mode of escape from it, is, to declare the whole counsel of God habitually and unreservedly.

If we were under no obligation with respect to Pedobaptist ministers, we might, as a safe course, decline to have any connection with them. But our Divine Master has commanded u to love all who are born of God. Many of these men manifest strong love to Christ; and we are bound to love them for Christ’s sake. They are laboring zealously and faithfully, to honor Christ, and save the souls of men; and the proof that they are called of God to this work, compels us to admit, that they are fellow-laborers with us in the glorious cause, notwithstanding the irregularity of their entrance into it. Can we turn away from such men; and proclaim to the world, that they are not God’s ministers? It is surely not necessary, in discountenancing their irregularities, to discountenance their entire ministry. We may approve all that they do right, and rejoice in it, without approving the wrong. This is the simple mode of solving the whole difficulty; and, if people do not at once understand the solution, let us act upon it, conscientiously, and in the fear of God, tell men do understand it. In this way we shall give the most effectual recommendation of the truth.

J. L. Dagg

Originally published in Manual of Church Order, The Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858. Reprint, Gano Books: Harrisonburg, VA, 1990, 286-298